Unfazed, IBM pumps Power chip program

Despite a very public dumping by Apple, Big Blue insists it's still got the Power, saying PCs were a relatively unimportant market anyway.

Fresh after getting publicly dumped by Apple Computer, IBM is taking new measures to spread its Power processors and make them a stronger competitor to Intel chips.

On Wednesday, IBM announced that 11 new members have joined a consortium of Power processor users. It also released specifications and software to make it easier to build computers using the forthcoming Power-based Cell processor that IBM, Toshiba and Sony developed. In addition, Big Blue has new customers in medical imaging and in defense, said Nigel Beck, chairman of the Power.org consortium.

And on a new section of its Web site, IBM makes the case that most growth in the processor market is taking place with servers, game consoles and mobile devices--markets where Power is used--not personal computers. IBM disclosed the site in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.


What's new:
IBM has found new allies and released new software to promote its Power processors, but Apple's defection to Intel tarnishes the effort.

Bottom line:
Big Blue likely will gain more from gaming consoles built on Power chips than it loses from Apple's departure. The changes help deepen the divide between IBM's Power and Intel's x86 chip families.

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Apple has been one of the highest-profile customers for Power processors, buying PowerPC chips from IBM and Motorola spin-off Freescale Semiconductor since 1994. That changed Monday when Apple announced its 2006 shift to Intel processors, chips it disparaged for years.

But IBM, far from being daunted, instead set the stage for a showdown with Intel by declaring just how ambitious its Power plans are: "IBM's strategy is to spread its open chip technology and establish Power Architecture as the dominant industry standard," Big Blue said on its Web site.

On the one side, Apple's departure tarnishes the image of the group and its related "Power Everywhere" marketing campaign, said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "This certainly takes some of the sheen off of it," he said.

On the other, for burnishing the Power image, the arrival of Cell should offset the departure of Apple. "We believe opening hardware and software specs for Cell will likely expand interest in Power.org," Pund-IT analyst Charles King said in a report.

Linux-on-Power allies hurt
Though Apple's move won't hurt IBM's Power processor manufacturing business much, there are direct effects elsewhere in its business. The company is trying to make Linux useful on its PowerPC- and Power5-based servers, but Apple's move left in the lurch two allies in that effort. and the Fedora PowerPC project both use Macs in their efforts to develop Linux for Power-based computers.

Terra Soft, which sells Yellow Dog Linux and Macs with the operating system already installed, said it has options to survive Apple's switch to Intel processors. In a statement, CEO Kai Staats said the company doesn't plan to switch its product line to Intel chips but that it still plans to sell its Y-HPC version of Linux for high-performance computing

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